When ‘master’ weaver P. Gopinathan laid the foundation for his handlooms in a Kerala village some 30 years ago, there were very few inducements to cushion his start-ups. The government tax rebate for handloom fabrics and Khadi and Village Industries Board grants were the sole incentives. Gopinathan organised women, gifted them his small plot to set up looms and taught them weaving. He enrolled them in a mahila samaj and when the first unit became viable, he set up several looms atop a hillock at Manjavilakom village, some 30 km from Thiruvananthapuram. Today almost 1,500 women work in 600-odd looms, sprawled across 10 acres.
The motive for setting up looms stemmed from his own childhood struggles. Gopinathan was the seventh among ten children in a backward weaver’s family. It was poverty all around. "I discontinued studies in the sixth standard, left home and toured South India, learning from master weavers. Back home, I knew weaving was the sole option though many looms had started folding up, unable to face stiff competition from the power looms," he recalls.